Forty years ago, the founders of the Christian College Coalition, as the CCCU was called then, looked across the cultural landscape and grew concerned. People from all walks of life were suggesting that higher education in the United States could not sustain a Christian ethic. The religious roots of many colleges and universities were perceived as irrelevant in the modern age, and religion was relegated – if it was present at all – to a separate department of study.
But that small founding group of visionary scholars and leaders believed otherwise. They were convinced that Christianity was both the anchor and the framework for learning. They believed, in fact, that the heart of academic inquiry was a Christ-centered ethos rooted in the biblical narrative, and so, given their cultural context, they knew they had to come together. If Christian higher education was to survive and even thrive, they would need each other. The association now known as the Council for Christian Colleges & Universities was born.
Thankfully, members of this group were also convinced of the sustaining truth of God’s faithfulness as they worked together, knowing he would guide them and the CCCU in the future. They knew they were stronger together than apart, and so they committed to helping one another navigate an increasingly complicated world.
What our founders could not have known, however, was just how crucial their shared commitment and mission would be for us today. They could not have foreseen the array of complex issues we are facing 40 years later.
And the vast differences of issues and questions we face today are indeed complicated: What does spiritual formation look like when church participation is trending downward? How do we encourage students to vote thoughtfully in an increasingly antagonistic political environment? In what ways do we inspire people to aspire to new leadership on our campuses when so many economic and divisive challenges exist?
Now, more than ever, we rely on God’s faithfulness and need his wisdom if we are going to reflect his grace, love and justice. And so, to help us think better about the discussions we will inevitably face, we wanted to focus this edition of the Advance on such topics. That is why we included stories such as the latest information from the Spiritual Transformation Inventory, a comprehensive assessment that evaluates both students’ spirituality and campus programs. We have an insightful essay from Michael Wear, an expert on the intersection of faith, politics and American life, on how we can educate our students to be reasoned thinkers in a divisive political season. Some CCCU leaders who spent a weekend immersing themselves in the issue of immigration on the U.S.-Mexico border reflect on our call to be peacemakers and the reality of what that looks like. David Kinnaman helps us consider what it means to be a Christian in a society that has characterized Christians as irrelevant and extreme.
These are just a few of the stories we have for you in this issue. Each points us back to what the founders of the CCCU knew 40 years ago: There will always be a need in our work for spiritual insight, biblical truth and sustaining faith in the God of truth. Yes, the challenges today can seem overwhelming and burdensome; we can grow discouraged and wonder how we will keep going.
Yet as New York Times columnist David Brooks reminded us at the 40th Anniversary Gala in January, “You have what everybody else is desperate to have: a way of talking about and educating the human person in a way that integrates faith, emotion and intellect. From my point of view, you’re ahead of everybody else and have the potential to influence American culture in a way that could be magnificent.” Brooks talked about the education of people imbued with souls. Soul care. Soul nurture. Soul tending. Christian higher education is not only necessary, but essential to humankind's well-being. It is worthy of the big questions and the finding of a way forward in the complexity of the now.
So, as we continue to celebrate the 40th anniversary of our shared commitment, let us remember that the best education emphasizes both academic excellence and spiritual maturity in preparing graduates for lives of depth and integrity. At the heart of Christian higher education is a moral underpinning that comes from a life of faith in the One whose life, death and resurrection has shaped cultures long before our campuses existed.
Jesus Christ does not change, even when the culture does. And that magnificent truth sustains us together.
Shirley V. Hoogstra is the seventh president of the Council for Christian Colleges & Universities.